By Patricia Brownell Sterner, COO, National Cooperative Business Association
Seven years ago Shreveport Federal Credit Union opened a branch in Marks, Mississippi to expand their services to the broader community in the Mississippi Delta region. The credit union’s leadership embraced their unique position as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and began building alliances with other cooperative organizations with a focus on using their collective resources to address the many needs and opportunities of the region.
The credit union’s initial work led them to discussions about the establishment of a regional farmers’ market located in Marks, Mississippi. Joining with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the primary cooperative development expert in the rural south, Shreveport FCU worked with local community leaders to further explore opportunities for community engagement.
The idea for the Delta Regional Market (a name under consideration) came about through multiple meetings with community members, mayors of several towns, and farmers in which they addressed the challenges which have caused this region to be so economically deprived. The resulting consensus has been the establishment of the Delta Regional Market as a means to overcome these challenges by providing the venue for farmers, artisans, and others to bring items to market inexpensively, allowing them to realize the financial benefits resulting from their labors and creativity. The Market will be a food hub for the entire community providing reasonably priced, fresh, locally-grown foods; creating jobs for some and for others an entertainment and a gathering place.
Partnering with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and NCBA CLUSA, Shreveport FCU recently hosted a daylong community planning session in Marks, Mississippi to build out the concept for the market, engage community support, and set in motion the plans to launch the market by the end of this calendar year.
Led by Mrs. Helen Godfrey-Smith, CEO of Shreveport Federal Credit Union, and Dr. Birdex Copeland, the credit union’s Chairman of the Board, the group made a visit to the proposed site for the Market in the old Barth Manufacturing Building near the southern edge of Marks, MS. This spot is ideal because it is highly visible from the main highway and directions are simple from as far away as Memphis TN or other area towns. Climate control equipped with heating for the fall and winter and air-conditioning for the spring and summer, the Market can be open year round, which will be a major draw for customers within a 50-mile radius. On-street parking provides plenty of space for customers, and the building is located near local businesses to encourage foot traffic to nearby merchants.
The Market will also be a showcase for the community’s cultural roots. In addition to being a Food Hub with sales of fresh farm products, the Market will also house a small Museum called “The Muletrain Museum and Gift Store”, a Kidz Zone, and a small Food Court. “Sunday Go to Meeting at the Market” will highlight the deep spiritual roots of the people of the Delta, and provide the opportunity for area churches from diverse communities to bring their choirs and congregations to the market to sing in the food court area on Sunday afternoons as an additional way to attract consumers to the Market.
Another central feature of the Market will be the participation of the North Delta Produce Growers Association, which will use part of the Market’s building to expand their commercial enterprise which currently sells purple hull peas to Walmart. Expansion of their operations will increase the distribution opportunities for their participating farmers, and open the door for other farmer cooperatives to join.
As Mrs. Godfrey-Smith said during the community meeting “We see this as a glimmer of hope for the region and thus a movement toward a revived Delta Spirit.”